My French Melbourne: mouthwatering French cuisine at Chez Olivier
At MyFrenchLife™, one of our favourite ways to immerse ourselves in French cuisine and culture is to visit a French restaurant.
Finding a phenomenal serving of steak frites without the snobbish attitude from the garçon typique is easier than you think. At Chez Olivier, in the heart of Prahran, you will experience the allure of French cuisine with chef de cuisine Sylvain Bernard and his team.
Working alongside his wife, Tiffany, must be key to la bonheur for Sylvain, as Chez Olivier’s atmosphere is infectious.
The restaurant gels well for les Français and les Australiens alike, with a charcuterie platter to travel across town for, and the charm of French dining with flare. We spoke to Sylvain about working in Melbourne and discovered what it’s like behind the scenes at his bistro.
Tell us the story behind Chez Olivier. What inspired you to start a French restaurant in Melbourne?
I arrived two and a half years ago in Australia, landed in Sydney and had two job offers: one in Cairns and one at Chez Olivier.
A good friend of mine recommended Melbourne as the gastronomic capital of Australia. I also loved the feel of ‘old Parisian bistro’ from the place. I’ve always loved cooking traditional and tasty French cuisine; I’m not too much into [anything] molecular or too sophisticated. I feel that sometimes you lose the taste to too much innovation.
Why did you decide to move from France to Melbourne? What was the most challenging part of adapting to the Melbourne lifestyle?
With my wife, we arrived in June 2012. We [had been] planning this for about a year. My wife actually has family living in Perth.
Most surprising? The weather! I found Melbourne pretty easy to adapt to. It’s one of the biggest cities in Australia but you don’t have that feeling of pressure like in Europe. I was surprised to discover that Melburnians are real foodies and they love their food and wines. They go out quite a lot as well!
What is a typical day like at Chez Olivier?
I start my day alone most of the time as I like to have the kitchen for myself in the morning. Then we start doing prep before lunch and then prep again before dinner. We’re almost doing everything in house (meat and fish stock, ice cream, pastries, etc.) so it requires a lot of prep.
Tell us more about your team. Is it mainly a French team or international? Why is this?
It’s a small team. We’ve got a pastry chef from India. He’s been working with us for more than two years now. And the chef de partie is French. We’re actually looking for another chef at the moment. I don’t really mind working with French or international chefs, it just tends to be easier with French chefs as they already know all the basics of French cuisine.
More and more French people are moving to Melbourne. Why do you think this is happening? Do you have many French customers?
I think at the moment Australia is quite appealing, [given] the economic situation in France and how easy it is to get a visa for Australia. It’s also kind of a dream for all the French – you know, you picture the surfer on the beach, the cool ‘no worries’ attitude. I know a lot of friends that spent some time in Australia and they all loved it and can’t wait to come back.
The majority of our customers are Australians but we’ve got quite a lot of French customers as well.
What do you love most about Melbourne? And what do you miss most about France?
The lifestyle is what I like the most but I’m missing the snow! I’m from the French Alps and I lived in a ski resort for eight years, skiing almost every day of the season. And the family of course – it’s quite a journey every time you want to go visit them.
Do you serve any specialties at your restaurant? Is there something that people really seem to come back for? Why do you think this is so?
We kind of only have specialties! The most popular items on the menu are prawns flamed with Pernod, cooked with garlic and herbs; the onion soup; the boeuf bourguignon; and the steaks. We’re using Black Angus beef and it’s really good meat.
Our homemade charcuterie platter is also a highlight. We had a regular last week telling us that amongst all the French restaurants in Melbourne, they’re coming to Chez Olivier especially for that.
What is your favourite?
My favourites are the garlic prawns and the steaks.
In Melbourne, do you have a favourite boulangerie, fromagerie, café, patisserie, boutique…?
Excellent cheese at the Cheese Room Richmond Hill Café and Larder; The Essential Ingredient in Prahran Market for all types of cooking supplies like truffle oil, salt, vinegar, cordial (especially the mint and orgeat cordials, my wife loves to mix them, she’s pregnant and it’s her only craving), A La Folie on Chapel St for the pastries, and The Little French Deli in Bonbeach.
You’ll find Chez Olivier at 121 Greville St, Prahran.
Have you tried Chez Olivier before? What was your plat préféré ? Let us know by leaving a comment in the box below!
All images courtesy © Chez Olivier.